This is a specially abridged and adapted version of the full-length article published in the May/June 2006 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Please see the bottom of this page for more information.

Nemesis: An opponent that cannot be beaten or overcome.

It would be accurate to say that I viewed mathematics as my childhood nemesis. Nothing roused a greater sense of dread, defeat and hopelessness in me than being handed a page of math homework. An “A” student, I just didn't seem to “get it” no matter how hard I tried.

In teaching my own children, I want to insure that I do not pass on my overall dread of mathematics. It is my desire to gift my children with an enthusiasm and confidence towards numbers. Upon reflection, I realized that much of my own difficulty lay in the fact that numbers seemed abstract and I often had little understanding of the “why” behind what I was doing. To counter this with my own children I determined to take math off worksheets and into real life as much as possible.

Facing a long drive with my then 2, 4 and 6 year old children, I was intent upon keeping them engaged (translated: not fussing, fighting or whining). I began chatting with my daughter about her recent lessons on line segments and suggested that she “spy” vertical, horizontal and oblique segments in the scenery. This was great fun and led naturally into a discussion on the various shapes and colors of signs and their meanings. I then pointed out mile markers and the children excitedly took turns covering their eyes while trying to estimate when we'd traveled one mile and calculating how many miles we'd gone.

Before we knew it we'd reached our destination. The time had literally flown! While having a wonderful time we'd had “lessons” on line segments, shapes, colors, comparison, estimation and addition. I was hooked! I immediately began looking for additional ways to incorporate math into our daily activities. I've come to believe that, in the early years, workbooks can be avoided altogether.

By utilizing a good Scope and Sequence you can rest assured that your child is learning the necessary skills. Visit and click on “Typical Course of Study” for a great listing of skills by age. There are endless ways to master these skills through practical activities.


As you scan the list you will quickly note that many skills can be learned simply by incorporating mathematical language and processes into your daily routine. Count as you set the table, pick up toys or take steps on your way to the park. Explain the concept of “pairs” as you put away shoes and have fun counting by twos. Comment on being “third” or “fourth” in line and explain cardinal and ordinal numbers. Have your child “estimate” rather than “guess” how many cookies will fit in the jar or how many cups in a quart. Ask them to bring you a “gallon” of milk or “quart” of juice rather than a jug or carton.

Everyday Items:

Use “real-life” items to teach whenever possible. Something as basic and simple as a catalog can cover a wide range of skills. A preschooler can find something “red” or “round” on a specific page. Ask a slightly older child to find pages 48, 256 and 301. “What costs $4.35 on page 379?” Elementary children can be given a budget and challenged to “buy” items for a dinner or birthday party or to purchase specific wardrobe items. Ask your middle schooler to prepare an order form complete with shipping and sales tax information. Teens can be challenged to “purchase” items from competing catalogs, figuring in shipping charges and taxes to determine which offers the better deal and the percentage of savings.


Recently, my four year old son, who has no interest in the difference between an “a” and a “b” proudly displayed three quarters and announced, “One more and I will have a dollar!” As your children earn money or receive an allowance, take the time to count it with them and show them how five pennies are the same as a nickel and ten equal a dime. Give your children real or pretend money and have them “pay” for their lunchtime meal. Teach them to play “store” with toys or empty food boxes.

Consider working with older children on a budget, either theirs or your own. Include them in financial decisions whenever possible. If you have a business enlist their help in determining the best shipping methods or which merchant account offers the lowest rates. Have them calculate the “true” cost of an item purchased on a credit card and paid off over a set period of time as opposed to paying cash for the same item.


Games are a top-notch resource. Rather than a worksheet full of less than/greater than problems, play a game of War and achieve the same result. Increase difficulty by allowing each player to draw two cards and declaring the one with the highest total the winner. Adjust it again but this time multiply the cards or subtract the smallest from the largest. With a bit of ingenuity, most games can be easily adapted to exercise a variety of skills. In addition to ready-made games, encourage your children to formulate games of their own. “Treasure hunts,” where one child draws a map for the other to find the “treasure” are a favorite at our home.

Out and About:

While at the grocery store let your children estimate and weigh items, calculate unit prices, find the best values or specific sized containers. At the gas station have them keep a log of miles traveled in a week, check air and oil readings, calculate how long to reach a destination and act as “keeper of the map.” When in a restaurant your children can be allowed a specific dollar amount to spend on their meal, calculate tips, or compare the cost of a restaurant meal as opposed to the same items in a grocery store.

As you begin incorporating “everyday equations” into your routine you will find it becoming easier and more natural to find these “lessons” in daily living. And, while your children will naturally increase in their mathematical understanding and numerical abilities, a great side benefit will be in your relationship as you share, interact with and relate with your child in a more intentional and relational way. What child wouldn't prefer a game of War with Mom over one more worksheet? Enjoy!

Dena Wood is a homeschooling mom of five and resides eastern Washington state. She is co-owner of Trigger Memory Systems, home of Times Tales and other creative, non-traditional learning products. Visit her online at

Dena Wood is a homeschooling mom of five and resides eastern Washington state. She is co-owner of Trigger Memory Systems, home of Times Tales and other creative, non-traditional learning products. Visit her online at

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